January 3-5, 2007

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From Agadir, we drove to Ouarzazate. The 375 KM (230 miles) took close to 7 hours so we didn't have much time to explore the city. Ouarzazate is well known for it's movie studio. We watched Gladiator and were able to recognize several of the shots from the beginning of the movie. Neat!

The next day we drove to Zagora (163km, 101 miles, 3 hours). This is where the Sahara is supposed to start - but that's a lie. The only dunes there are man made and geared for tourists. So we continued to M'Hamid (70km, 45 miles, 2 hours) - which is truly the closest city to the Sahara. We stayed in the desert overnight, drove back to Ouarzazate. The pictures of the Sahara have their own page.

We had an interesting encounter (much like we did in Essaouira). As we drove to Zagora, in the middle of the mountains, someone flagged us down. We stopped and they explained that their car was broken and could we give Abdul a ride to the nearest town for a mechanic. The next village with a mechanic, Agdz, was about an hour away. We drove Abdul to the mechanic and then dropped him off at his uncle's shop. His uncle, Alozlellah, turned out to be a rug merchant. No, really, he's a rug merchant. As thanks, he treated us to Mint Tea. An hour later, he had: (a) put turbans on our heads (b) sold us two rugs (c) accepted 3 of our DVDs (as presents) (e) talked us into staying overnight in the Sahara at his "camp" with Abdul (who jumped at a chance to visit family) to see the sunset and the sunrise and (f) come back the next day to stay with him overnight and then drive to various Berber old towns in the Draa Valley.

I learned a lot from this man. Alozlellah spends three months a year in a 150 camel caravan with 35 members of his family - although our interaction was disconcerting the entire time. We couldn't discern when he was being genuinely friendly and when he was "trying to win us over for business." I always was on guard - "what is going to sell to me next?" I think Alozhellah summed it up well when he said "business just strengthens friendship but it should never get in the way of friendships." How Chinese! We learned much about his views of what is going on in Morocco, the Berbers, what is important in the Moroccan culture, etc. See bottom of page for summary.

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It takes us ~ 12 hrs to drive 375 miles (600km) - for an average of 31 mph (50km/h). There are many reasons for this:
  • All cars are manual - so Mathieu has to relearn stick-shift. Since Mathieu does all the driving, we take frequent breaks. Justin is very grateful for all the long hours of driving Mathieu did.
  • We cross two sets of mountains. This shot is before mountain number one
  • In many places, like the one pictured here, the road is one lane - so when another car comes, you have to "negotiate" by pulling off the road
  • The landscape is amazing, so we slow down to look at stuff
  • The towers in this shot indicate that we are entering one of the provinces.

    Since there are very few roads, it is very easy to navigate. It is hard to get lost when there are no paved turns for 100 miles!

    ... breathtaking views...

    We cross those tall mountains on the way to Marrakech

    Sometimes we had to stop for odd reasons. In this case, because a river had washed out the road the previous year.

    Note: the signs were usually in Arabic and French

    Another hill with writing. It says "Alah","the King" and "Welcome"

    The word "Welcome" is very important and often used. Every time we tell people we come from Canada or US or... they say "Welcome".

    Note the stack of rocks on the left of the picture by the road side. Stacks of rocks painted white symbolize "Welcome". We see many of those stacks on the road.

    Note the building at the top-this is a Kasbah-- a fortified house for the local leader/tribeman. The Kasbah is a Berber tradition.

    In the mountains, when the snow melts, the water damages the roads and the bridges

    This is the only bridge we see in the mountain and it isn't repaired. We see some bridges to cross rivers - they are all very low and quite narrow. It seems that bridge building is difficult/ expensive.

    One lane road with switchbacks and no guardrails. Pretty red/pink rock (which many houses are made of).
    Another amazing shot of our one lane road. You can see the road continuing all the way to the end of the shot.

    Note the Acacia trees! They are quite similar in architecture to the ones in Kenya but are much smaller/ shorter.

    Shot taken in the car (as we were driving). Don't look down....
    The black Mercedes had run right into the mountain face. The curves were very very tight and many Moroccan men like to prove their machismo by going as fast as possible.

    The yellow car is a taxi. Finding cops or other people to help on the mountain road is very difficult apparently.

    Breaking the monotony, we spot various towers ...
    ... or Kasbahs...
    ... and sometimes beautiful villages perched in the mountain ....
    We even ran into Tatooine (hrr- really Taliouine).... It's no wonder parts of Star Wars were filmed in Tunisia.
    ... when we finally arrive in Ouarzazate, we are greeted with a nice sunset over the Kasbah.
    ... and a very nice sunrise the next morning.
    We have a great dinner at the Restaurant Relais Saint-Exupéry (of the Little Prince fame). In fact, I would go further and say that this was our favorite restaurant in Morocco

    The pumpkin soup was quite good. Justin has been trying to reproduce since we've been back. Note the Little Prince drawing on the dish.

    In Ouarzazate, we visit an internet cafe ($1 per hour). This poor router & switch is driving over 15 desktops.
    ... desktops so old (and this was one of the newest ones!) that cabling probably didn't make any difference :). This was one large difference between Morocco and Thailand (click to see picture of PS2 parlor).

    For non-geeks, this computer is probably 7 years old (Pentium III were introduced in 1999).

    After we had picked up Abdul, we drove through Agdz. We ran into a protest and the road was blocked. They must have learned that technique from the French (here) and (here)!

    We learned that this had been going on for two days. College students are protesting that the government does not pay for transportation to the university for [mostly Berber] students living in Ouarzazate but does pay for [mostly Arab] students in cities such as Fez. The situation was resolved while we were still in the town, although we didn't get all the details.

    Shot from our car as we are driving around the protest in the sand ....
    Abdul by his cousins's store.
    Our new friend after putting turban and cloak on me.
    Justin & I together (our only picture of us together from this trip)
    We heard a lot about Morocco from our friend. He told us quite a few things - such as:

  • Family is very important.
  • His whole family centers around him. We meet several of his cousins, an uncle (professor of French at university) and his two nieces stayed with him to go to school. We kept driving family members from one location to another.
  • Business is important - but it is friendships that sustain you
  • . He claimed to have hundreds of friends: people he has meet all over the world, people he continues to visit. He was certainly very friendly and called us "his friend" very quickly. He opened up his family, house, and food very quickly. When we walked in the village, everyone would come and do the Moroccan kiss on each cheek.
  • You don't give your name to people lightly.
  • It wasn't until he had learned a fair amount from us (two hours), that he told us his name and asked for ours. It wasn't until we came back the next day that he gave us his phone number.
  • July and August is hell in saharan Morocco.
  • It is 45C (or 113 F) in July & August. Water is scarce.
  • Berbers feel oppressed/occupied by the "Arabs"
  • . Berbers aren't allowed to be elected into parliament. They are finally going to be allowed to organize a party next year and he expects many changes. Berbers are much more "liberal" - there are Muslim, Christian and Jewish Berbers for example.
  • School should be compulsory
  • . School isn't compulsory in Morocco. NOTE: we have some counter-evidence of this - but the illiteracy rate is over 50% (several street vendors couldn't read numbers that Justin would write down -- so our Thailand strategy of passing calculator back and forth for negotiating prices didn't work).

    We did come back with two great rugs. We did some research and found that we got great prices. So if you go to Morroco, be sure to check out:
    Caravane Des Homes Blues (Caravane of the Blue Men)
    About 1.2KM out of Agdez on the way to Zagora (on the right).

    click here for movie
    This is a movie of Justin's head being wrapped. You can get a taste of the French accent.
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